Fatal heroin overdoses on the rise in New York City

Thu Aug 28, 2014 4:33pm EDT
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By Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The number of deaths from accidental overdoses of opioid drugs has steadily risen in New York City since 2010, in part because of an apparent resurgence in heroin use, according to data released on Thursday by the city's health department.

Heroin overdoses killed 420 people in the city in 2013, the highest in a decade, the department said. It was the most common substance tied to overdose deaths, involved in 54 percent of them.

The largest increase in heroin overdose rates was seen in the city's wealthiest neighborhoods, the department said, rising to 5.6 deaths per 100,000 people in 2013, from 1.9 in 2010.

"We know that these deaths are preventable," said Dr. Hillary Kunins, a deputy commissioner at the health department, declining to speculate on what caused the resurgence.

"This is the million-dollar question that many people are struggling with," Kunins said.

Abuse of opioids, a class of addictive drugs that can dull pain and bring feelings of euphoria to users, has become a leading cause of death in the United States, especially in suburban and rural areas.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls it an epidemic.

One hopeful development is data showing a reversal in the surging rate of opioid painkiller deaths on Staten Island - the city's most suburban borough. Fatalities declined for two years to 7.3 deaths per 100,000 people, from 10.7 in 2011.   Continued...